Medical research using mice and rats tries to control all the variables – making everything the same. But it doesn’t work…
… and maybe it’s a bad idea in the first place! Joseph Garner at the Stanford University Medical Center has some ideas about this:
The philosophy behind mouse research has been to make everything as uniform as possible, so results from one facility would be the same as the identical experiment elsewhere.
But despite extensive efforts to be consistent, this setup hides a huge amount of variation. Bedding may differ from one facility to the next. So might the diet. Mice respond strongly to individual human handlers. Mice also react differently depending on whether their cage is up near the fluorescent lights or hidden down in the shadows.
Garner and colleagues tried to run identical experiments in six different mouse facilities, scattered throughout research centers in Europe. Even using genetically identical mice of the same age, the results varied all over the map.
Garner says scientists shouldn’t even be trying to do experiments this way.
“Imagine you were doing a human drug trial and you said to the FDA, ‘OK, I’m going to do this trial in 43-year-old white males in one small town in California,'” Garner says — a town where everyone lives in identical ranch homes, with the same monotonous diets and the same thermostat set to the same temperature.
“Which is too cold, and they can’t change it,” he goes on. “And oh, they all have the same grandfather!”
The FDA would laugh that off as an insane setup, Garner says.
“But that’s exactly what we do in animals. We try to control everything we can possibly think of, and as a result we learn absolutely nothing.”
Garner argues that research based on mice would be more reliable if it were set up more like experiments in humans — recognizing that variation is inevitable, and designing to embrace it rather than ignore it. He and his colleagues have recently published a manifesto, urging colleagues in the field to look at animals in this new light.
Here’s the manifesto:
• Joseph P Garner, Brianna N Gaskill, Elin M Weber, Jamie Ahloy-Dallaire and Kathleen R Pritchett-Corning, Introducing therioepistemology: the study of how knowledge is gained from animal research. Available at http://www.labanimal.com/laban/journal/v46/n4/pdf/laban.1224.pdf
The quote is from the article I’m linking to – the whole thing is good.
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